BY DAVID LARKINS, Wesmen Athletics
The Winnipeg Wesmen were smiling like they've rarely done thus far in the Canada West season, and they had every reason to do so.
The Wesmen men's basketball team used runs of 10-0 and 13-2 in the second half and blew away the Manitoba Bisons Friday night to capture a much-needed conference victory as well as help the U of W take the Duckworth Challenge back downtown.
Combined with the women's team's win earlier in the night, the men's team's victory helped the U of W overcome two volleyball losses the night before to win the Duckworth Challenge for the first time in five years. The Wesmen won on a tiebreak after going 2-0-1 in the aggregate event between volleyball, basketball and women's soccer.
It was during one of those decisive second-half runs that the Wesmen couldn't help but laugh. Denzel Lynch-Blair ran free for a layup without a Bison within 30 feet and moments later the Wesmen created one of their 11 steals on the night and drew a Manitoba foul. Lynch-Blair, Will Sesay and Narcisse Ambanza enjoyed the impromptu celebration knowing their team was in full control and a critical win in a season filled with struggles was coming their way.
The Wesmen outscored the Bisons 47-22 in the second half, an utterly dominant stretch that came on the heels of a prayer buzzer-beating three from Rashawn Browne, which cut Winnipeg's lead to 47-45.
"They made a push at the end of the second quarter and we just came into the locker-room trying to bring ourselves together," said Lynch-Blair, who finished with a game-high 31 points. "We told ourselves we just have to play hard like we practiced all week. We just made a push, it started on defence, and then everything was rolling from there on out."
Lynch-Blair, now in his fourth year, may be from Toronto but he said he understands fully the magnitude of playing the crosstown rivals.
"This is my fourth year and this is my favourite game," said Lynch-Blair, who added six rebounds, five assists and five steals. "The most fans, the loudest game. I love it and everyone gets into it. We gotta bring it home for the Wesmen."
Ambanza chipped in 17 points and eight rebounds, Sean Tarver had 13 and seven off the bench, and Billy Yaworsky dropped 11 for the Wesmen, who won their third straight and improved to 6-9.
Manitoba, which fell to 10-7 with its third straight loss, got 22 from Justus Alleyn, 15 from Browne and 13 from James Wagner.
The two teams will meet up again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Duckworth Centre.